Category Archives: Civilian Worker Stories

Arthur Burleigh

The Maintenance Crew in front of a Dakota aeroplane. Arthur Burleigh is front row, fifth from the left.

Arthur Burleigh worked as a civilian Chargehand Airframe Fitter on the Airfield for twenty years from 1940 until it’s closure in December 1960. He worked on the service and maintenance of the aeroplanes in the hangers. Arthur was also a member of the Royal Observer Corps based on the Airfield. He was Chairman of Silloth Football Club from 1950 to 1960. The team used to play their games at the Bank Ends pitch in West Silloth in a field behind Golf Terrace, next to the golf links. George Doughty will no doubt remember this as he played for Silloth F.C at the time. In 1953 they moved to their current pitch in the Eden Street playing field and a new changing room shed was erected, which Arthur helped to obtain from the Silloth Airfield. These changing rooms were used for many years and will be familiar to players and spectators alike. When the Airfield closed in December 1960 Arthur transferred to Wroughton Airfield near Swindon in Wiltshire, where Betty also later worked.

The Silloth Royal Observer Corps around 1940
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Aircraft on the Airfield during WW2.
Aircraft under maintenance in a hanger WW2
One of the Hangers under construction in 1939.
Arial photo of the Airfield showing the Maintenance Hangers and Control Tower.
Aerial photo of Silloth, showing aircraft parked in the fields around the Airfield during WW2.
A map showing the location of the RAF Quarters sites in Silloth during WW2.
Commemorative stone in memory of Silloth Airfield and all who worked there from 1939 to 1960
 Note:

Arthur and Betty’s house in Silloth 3, Hylton Terrace was bought by Lawrence and Mary Marshall in May 1962.  Arthur passed away in December 2007 aged 96.

Acknowledgement

The above information is from Arthur and Betty Burleigh’s archives. Many thanks to their son, Ken Burleigh, for sending.

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Betty Burleigh

  WAAF at RAF Silloth

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Betty Burleigh joined the WAAF in 1942 and was stationed at the Silloth Airfield RAF Camp from 12th April 1945 to 19th October 1945 as a Corporal in charge of the WAAF personnel, who were billeted at the time in The Solway Hotel. She worked in the RAF HQ Office on the Airfield, mainly controlling  the movement of vehicles entering and leaving the Airfield. Betty was demobbed in late 1945.

Airfield Control Tower

 Betty later worked as a civilian Radio Telephonist in The Silloth Airfield Control Tower from 1955 to 1960. There were three shifts, 6am – 2pm, 2pm – 10pm and 10pm – 6am, which were rotated between ten Radio telephonists. They were supervised by Flight Lieutenant Cybulski from the Polish Air Force, who worked days. Betty’s duties were to take messages from pilots to pass onto the Flight Lieutenant, log aircraft in and out and give instructions to aircraft to land and take off. 

One memory of the day was when Cliff Richard landed at the Airfield in 1959. Word quickly got around that he was in the Officers Mess waiting for his aircraft to be refuelled. One of the Airfield Control Tower girls phoned to speak to him and to prove it was him he sang a line over the phone from his hit song of the day Living Doll. The girl then asked the Flight Lieutenant if she could meet him. The Flight lieutenant obtained permission and she was allowed to see him. Betty was on duty at the time and can remember how excited her colleague was when she returned to the Control Tower. Not sure where Cliff’s destination was, but someone might remember. Betty is now 94 (September 2015).

Betty Burleigh (Airfield Control Tower) Photos

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Betty Burleigh in the Operations Room of the Airfield Control Tower 1950’s.
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Betty Burleigh and her colleague Margaret Bilton on the roof of the Airfield Control Tower 1950’s.
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22 Maintenance Unit / RAF Badge presented to Betty Burleigh.
The Fire Crew taken in 1953 in front of the Control Tower.
The Control Tower taken in 1982 before it was demolished.
The Control Tower taken in 1982 before it was demolished.
Note

Betty and Arthur Burleigh’s house in Silloth 3, Hylton Terrace was bought by Lawrence and Mary Marshall in May 1962.  Betty’s husband, Arthur, passed away in December 2007 aged 96.

Acknowledgement

The above information is from Arthur and Betty Burleigh’s archives. Many thanks to their son, Ken Burleigh, for sending.

Ernie Barrett

He said we had to ‘make do and mend’ as well:

“We maintained Bristol ‘Beauforts’ in the open, and even made spanners for the Bristol ‘Taurus’ sleeve valve engines plug lead connections because we were told that none were available.”

Extracted from RAF Silloth – Wartime memories of the men and women who knew the airfield at Silloth when it was operational. Ed. Maggie Clowes. Retyped by Chris Graham.

A. Kazer

 “After doing the usual rounds of signing in we were allocated to ‘watches ‘ – much of the traditions of the RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service) seem to have survived into Coastal Command. On a morning watch we would parade in the hangar for prayers by the chaplain and then allocated duties. The watch system gave 1 day off in 8. The work was fairly routine – daily inspections, in between flight inspections, refuelling, plug changes but even this could be difficult since there was a general shortage of tools and overalls. Coins of the realm were much in evidence when removing and replacing engine cowlings. There was also a shortage of aircraft covers which often meant leaving aircraft overnight exposed to the elements and in the morning it was virtually impossible to start the aircraft engines without the prolonged use of hot air blowers. One other job I recall was emptying 4 gallon petrol cans into the main station petrol tank – these were leftovers from the unsuccessful Norwegian campaign. On the night watch for our meal we would be marched down to the Airmen’s Mess which was situated about ¼ – ½ mile from the main camp, the meals were good and you seldom needed to make use of the NAAFI. A YMCA van used to call during the night watch.”

Pay parade was near the SWO’s (Jack Sutherland?) office. Coming where he did in the alphabet he said:

“There were so many Johns and Jones I thought my turn would never come.”

Extracted from RAF Silloth – Wartime memories of the men and women who knew the airfield at Silloth when it was operational. Ed. Maggie Clowes. Retyped by Chris Graham.

Kenneth Bore

Kenneth Bore

He was called up with the first batch of the 19 year age group and did his initial training at Padgate and technical training at Halton as a Flight Mechanic (Air Frames).

“The unit was run on a 3 flight basis: ‘A’ flight flying Lockheed Hudson aircraft was concerned with the training of pilots; ‘B’ flight flying Airspeed Oxford and Avro Anson aircraft trained Wireless Operators, Navigators and Air Gunners. There was also a Fairey Battle aircraft on site for air to air target towing operators for air gunner training.”

 He doesn’t tell us the aircraft used by ‘C’ flight.

Extracted from RAF Silloth – Wartime memories of the men and women who knew the airfield at Silloth when it was operational. Ed. Maggie Clowes. Retyped by Chris Graham.

Heather Wood Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA)

Silloth Resident

Heather Wood was a well known resident in Silloth, who was a member of  the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) during WW2.

Click images below to enlarge.
Images above curtesy of Tim Barker Archives.

What was the ATA?

As Heather Wood’s Certificate above indicates, ferry pools were set up to ferry planes from one location to another, related to the ‘Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy and for air transport tasks auxiliary to the War effort.’  Male and female civilian pilots attached to the ATA would arrive at a factory to pick up brand new planes and take them to a maintenance unit such as 22MU in Silloth. (Similar to other maintenance units, Silloth 22MU had been set up in an area thought to be as far away as possible from where enemy bombers were thought to reach.)

After the plane’s maintenance was completed, another civilian pilot was sent to Ferry Control to fly it to the front line Squadron, which could be anywhere in the UK.  If the plane got damaged in battle or needed overhauling, another civilian pilot would take it to a repair or maintenance unit, such as Silloth 22 MU, while another would deliver the serviceable plane to keep the squadron up to strength.

The basic principle of women in the ATA was achieved in 1939 through the diplomacy of Pauline Gower, Head of the Women’s Section. Women  pilots were initially restricted to non-combat types of work (trainers and transports), but they were eventually permitted to fly virtually every aircraft flown by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm, including four-engined heavy bombers such as Lancasters.

ATA work was dangerous for men and women taking up the role of ferry pool pilots. Some were shot at by the enemy and also, occasionally, by their own side. However, weather was their biggest enemy. Silloth aerodrome was particularly risky because of its situation on the Solway as well as being so close to the Lake District Fells.

“People often marvel at the fact that the ferry pilots flew in the ever-changing British weather without radios or navigation aids, in the days before SatNav. Flight instruments showed how fast or high they were flying. However, because ATA pilots were required to stay within sight of the ground, they were never taught the art of flying instruments – flying blind” […] “Only when ATA started flying into Europe after D-Day in 1944 were its pilots given courses in how to use radios. Their call sign was ‘Ferdinand the Bull’.” (Hyams, Jacky, The Female View (2012).

The fascinating inside story of the WW2 British Air Transport Auxillary (A.T.A.) told in the videos below feature interviews with many of the surviving pilots. ITV West TV production from 2005.

Part 1 – “Episode 01 of a three-part series telling the story of the Air Transport Auxiliary (A.T.A.) and the unsung heroes who ferried aircraft from the factories to the front line during the Second World War. This first episode tells of how British Airways director Gerard d’Erlanger came up with the idea of using civilian pilots to support the war effort by transporting mail, VIPs and injured soldiers, officially forming the ATA in September 1939.”

Part 2 “Episode 02 of a three-part series telling the story of the Air Transport Auxiliary (A.T.A.) and the unsung heroes who ferried aircraft from the factories to the front line during the Second World War. This second episode reveals the methods by which these civilian pilots were trained to fly so many different types of aircraft, and how the Air Transport Auxiliary’s use of female pilots made it unique in wartime Britain, a policy of sexual equality that other employers took years to embrace.”

Part 3 – “Episode 03 of a three-part series telling the story of the Air Transport Auxiliary (A.T.A.) and the unsung heroes who ferried aircraft from the factories to the front line during the Second World War. This third episode tells of how, sixty years on, members of the Air Transport Auxiliary reunited at RAF Lyneham to reminisce about absent friends and the World War Two flying missions that saw them risking their lives to ferry aircraft and supplies to Europe. They also discuss how female pilots found it hard to get work on commercial airlines after the conflict finished.”

Men and women who flew with the ATA are special because they did extraordinary things. “To us, in a world of regulation, licences and certificates, the idea of flying six different planes in one day is unbelievable, particularly when you consider that they [ATA ferry pilots] would be seeing some of those planes for the first time. Nowadays it just would not be allowed to happen” (Richard Poad, MBE in the Foreword to Hyams, J ‘The Female View’ (2012). Published by The History Press.)